Thank you so much for all the impassioned comments regarding the casting of the wonderful Emma Stone in the part of Allison Ng. I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice. As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.
From the start of this “controversy” I had wondered if this was the case. That the fact that she didn’t look Asian was built in to the character. Since it is, that makes casting a non-Asian actor very appropriate. Which lets Cameron Crowe off the book, at least as far as I am concerned. You could ask “Well, why doesn’t Crowe change the character to match our preferred casting.” Which itself might be reasonable, if the story would be better that way. Maybe so. Haven’t seen it.
This drags us a bit into how frustrating these sorts of conversations almost always are. People point out something that looks like an example of racism or sexism. Defenders say “Hey, sometimes things work out that way.” And sometimes, as in this case, they can actually point to particular circumstances that do justify otherwise awkward casting. Or justify a fifty-seven year old actor with a 20-something female love interest. Or an all-white cast. Or any number of things. Which brings us to Maggie Gyllenhaal:
It’s hard to assess whether this decision was appropriate to the story or not, without knowing what the story was. There are times when it might indeed be appropriate to cast two characters of differing ages. I mean, it wouldn’t have quite worked if Mrs Robinson had been the same age as Ben Braddock in The Graduate (though, notably, Mrs Robinson is not who the Ben Braddock ended up with). And with any single example, a decision can be justified. It’s when the decisions create a pattern that the complaints take on significance, and even if every single instance can be justified because that’s sometimes how things happen, patterns should not be ignored.
Maggie Gyllenhaal recently lost a film role because she was apparently “too old” to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man, the 37-year-old actress revealed in a new interview with The Wrap.
“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time,” Gyllenhall said. “I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me.”
While she declined to identify the project’s name—because Gyllenhall is all class—she said she was eventually able to laugh off the rejection.
“It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”
Now, the answer to this could be “That’s just capitalism, baby!” Which is the answer you usually hear when the pattern is pointed out. Or when people complain about the lack of minorities, female leading parts, or whatnot. (It’s certainly something I hear whenever I talk about how TV shows overwhelmingly take place in a handful of places, or Trumwill’s Law.) And depending on the subject, I sometimes believe it’s true (and other times believe it’s mostly a product of the creators being white, male, urbanite, liberal, etc.)
In the case of racial casting, though, and the sexism/ageism thing, it’s not entirely clear to me whether it’s capitalism or not. I mean, I’m inclined to say “Not entirely” on the first and “Mostly” on the second. That’s guessing, and I think the impetus should be on Hollywood to better demonstrate that it’s not actually them because I have a general suspicion. But whether it’s Hollywood or Hollywood pointing a mirror back at the paying public, it is worth talking about and I believe a lot of people are entirely too dismissive.
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